As a young person I accepted the common opinion I was a master of the universe. Not only could I do anything I wanted, I could do it well. I loved the stress that crushed other people, stress was like amphetamines for me, it made me sharper and more focused.
As the story goes, “Speed Kills.” I’ve lost my taste for stress. I’ve become a softer, more gentle person. Sometimes I miss the razor’s edge, but the benefits of slowing down and accepting my place in the universe more than balance the loss.
When Emma was ill, I recognized that my ability to bend reality to my desires was an illusion. I took some solace in not being responsible for everyone’s happiness, I never believed I was a God, but when I could not repair the person I cared most about I suddenly felt as if I could repair nothing. For a while I could not, but that was just the depression talking.
Accepting that we have no real control is not easy. We think we make decisions, but in reality our best laid plans are as effective as a pinball choosing its own course. The difference is that a pinball does not regret its path. It bounces from bumper to bumper without a care. We beat ourselves up, knowing that if we had not stopped for coffee we would have not been on the road when the dog ran across in front of us. The point is, we didn’t know the dog existed when we stopped for coffee, we were happy that we were running early and could still get to work on time.
We do the best we can with the information we have, with the person that we happen to be, at the point in time we make the decision. I recently listened to an audiobook, “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division,” written and read by Peter Hook, the bass player for Joy Division. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Joy Division was a rock band from Manchester England. Ian Curtis, the lead singer, was a brilliant artist, who happened to have epilepsy along with the other pressures of being a brilliant artist. On the eve of their American tour, Ian committed suicide. There are many reasons Ian may have had to commit suicide, but the fact is he did it on his own. It really can not be blamed on any other person, but there are several people who feel guilty about it. You can hear in Peter’s voice the questions that are still rolling around in his mind, several times he says “We should have done this differently.” But he was not the fifty eight year old man he is now when those decisions were being made. He was a twenty four year old kid on the brink of rock stardom. In one well reasoned passage, he ponders how touring America would have affected Ian, concluding that they were all doing what they were supposed to be doing as talented performers in the creative experience. They weren’t doctors or psychologists, they were band mates holding each other together.
There is a line in the song “Held In The Arms Of Your Words” by the band Tired Pony, “every mistake that we’ve made is at peace cause it lead us both here” which describes how I have come to look at the past. Should I have married my first wife? If I hadn’t, three beautiful human beings would not have been born, if I wouldn’t have followed her back to the Pennsylvania where she dumped me with nothing, I wouldn’t have been in Bloomsburg where my second wife happened to be spending the summer, and followed her back to Philadelphia, and my youngest child would never have been born. Not being in Philadelphia I would have never met Emma, and that journey led me to where I am now. None of that would have happened if I had said “No, I’m staying in California” to my first wife. All the wonderful and horrible experiences would be replaced by other wonderful and horrible experiences.
This year I’ve lost a few friends and family, I don’t hear comments about how sad it is they left so young very much anymore. Mortality is less of a surprise, and most of us have realized greatness does not come from climbing Everest, it comes from climbing out of bed every morning. It comes from smiling in the midst of adversity. It comes from acknowledging we are not the best or worst at whatever we’re doing, we’re just trying to be the best we are capable of being.
Life is finite. We don’t know how much time we have, but we should know there is not enough time to regret things we have done without malice. We cannot change the past, we can only learn from it, and if there are to be regrets, they should be when we do not learn.